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Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)has an outstanding place in the study of Comparative Mythology and, it could be said also easily, within the American Culture (although not hemmed in necessarily to the most important developments of that rich Culture but also to another Cultures and Styles of Life).The other great Scholar devoted to Mythology and Comparative Study of Religions was Mircea Eliade (who qualified at the University of Chicago). Notwithstanding, and without furthering this issue, Campbell was a free and independent writer and scholar more gifted than the encyclopedic and orthodox Eliade.
The most classical and well accepted book of Campbell is his 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces" appeared originally in 1949 by Bollingen Foundation and published by Pantheon Books is now offered to us in its third edition by the Joseph Campbell Foundation and with revisions. In point of fact, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" is a book- I would prefer to say it is like a project of life and thought- of outstanding significance and essential reference not only to the Compared Religion and Mythology but also in order to understand the Time we live with its uniqueness, its greatness and default. This book is also a self-presentation of Joseph Campbell himself as a man who always searches the deepest interpretation of the Myths and of Mythology in its dappled and rich manifestations and influences in our Postmodern Culture and Society.
This new edition, thanks to the intelligent care of the "Joseph Campbell Foundation", is well improved particularly in the Bibliography and the excellent new graphic stuff that is an excellent help to illustrate and to better understand the main thesis of Campbell: the Journey and the Transformations of the "Hero" through the Cultures and through the "Mythic Time". This Time is enlightened by the Myths and its possibility of Transformation, firstly of inner Transformation during the Infinite Travel and Search of the Myth, recognized not only as Truth and Unlimited Quest but also as Source of Human Creativity and Psychological Freedom .These are, in Campbell Research, not only mere Abstract Concepts but essential components of every aspect of the Human Status as such.
In fact, one of the greatest legacies of Joseph Campbell is about the accept and experience of Mythology as a Value and a Reality that "touches" us in almost every aspect of the Human Voyage: from the philosophical, psychological and religious sides unto the fine arts, the modern artistic- sophisticated and trivial- expressions and, last but not least, our daily life with its search of Meaning and Purpose. It is remarkable to observe that this view of Myth and Mythology is present, certainly with a non identical approach, in the Contemporary Philosophy (for example, Paul Ricoeur,etc.).
In fact, "The Hero with Thousand Faces" is generally accepted as one of the most influential books in our Post-modern World searching, positively and/or negatively, Identity and a New Paradigm of Knowledge, Culture and Spirituality. Today, and after Derrida, perhaps it is not so odd to think that Campbell did a unsurpassed work of De-construction in order to take hold of the message of the Mythical Truths present in practically every breadth of the Human Existence. But this naive comparative must not lead us to forget that Campbell, inspired principally but not exclusively, by Jungian Psychology; search and re-search the basic and original content of the Myths and its Stories. His Language was directed to everyman and not firstly to an elite of initiated people in the secrets of a mysterious Language. Certainly, as Campbell himself recognizes, Psychoanalysis is his basic tool.
"The Grammar of Symbols", as Campbell himself said applying a very happy turn of phrase that could be also one of the most fascinating clues to understand his masterful work; is based upon a very wide psychoanalytic background and a wonderful description/narration of the Myths, base of Comparative Study. The purpose of this Research, written with a highly witty and open Style, is the "human mutual understanding". And we find out here, in my opinion, the reason of the broad acceptance of Campbell's Books and at every level of people: Campbell answers to deep questions of each one of us.
To read or to re-read this wonderful Book- a true Classic of our time- could be furthermore a personal journey to self-knowledge according to the archetypal prototype of the Figures inhabiting the pages of Campbell. This true Pattern could lead also to an "experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment" (189) without denying the road to the "experience of transcendental bliss" (id). It is important to remember here that central trends in Mental Health today speak a propos of comparable processes as authentic psychotherapeutic methods and not exclusively of Jungian provenance.
"The Joseph Campbell Foundation" -- founded to "preserve, protect, and perpetuate Campbell's work" -- has indeed a very central mission because the Thought of Campbell is beyond doubt relevant. In some sense, we could emphasize that the people of our time- the Academic and the non-Academic People- call for such Thought not only because his Style is full of clever Wisdom and Clearness but also because his Message merits to be deepened and meditated.
© 2009 A.Ch.F. Weizmann
A.Ch.F. Weizmann, Ph.D., Haifa University